Iran has seized two U.S. Navy boats, and has taken the ten sailors — nine men, one woman — into custody, after one of the boats experienced a mechanical problem in or near Iranian waters, NBC News is reporting.
The two boats were on a training mission near Farsi Island in the Red Sea, between Saudia Arabia and Iran, at around noon Eastern Time when the damaged boat drifted into waters that Iran claims are their territorial waters. The Iranians then took the Americans into custody.
geocontext: US craft & sailors seized near Farsi Island (see map) pic.twitter.com/1l85B07E3O
— Jeff Sonstein (@jeffsonstein) January 12, 2016
CNBC reports that one of the boats experienced its mechanical problems after running aground in shallow waters. Farsi Island, where the boats were seized, is home to an Iranian naval base.
The two Navy boats seized by Iran are known as Riverine Command Boats, which are designed for high speed and precision changes of direction in shallow waters, designed to deliver amphibious infantry.
— Tara Copp (@TaraCopp) January 12, 2016
According to Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook, the boats were moving between Kuwait and Bahrain when U.S. officials lost contact with them.
“We have been in contact with Iran and have received assurances that the crew and the vessels will be returned promptly.”
Soon after learning of the seizure, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Tehran by phone in order to secure the sailors’ release. Iran has promised to release the sailors “soon,” but did not give a timetable for their return. Iranian authorities insist the sailors are safe.
An official, speaking to NBC News on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Iran understands that the whole thing was a mistake, and that Iran plans to return the sailors “within hours.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that there’s little to be done at this point except to monitor the developments.
“At this point, we’re still monitoring the situation and it’s not entirely clear what happened.”
NBC News military analyst retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, meanwhile, believes that, unless Iran returns the captured boats and sailors quickly, things could devolve in the region.
“We simply can’t allow ground, air or naval units to be seized by a foreign hostile power. I hope they’re back real quickly. This is an affront to our military presence in the Gulf and will unsettle our allies in the region.”
Iran’s news agency FARS reported that the two American boats were “trespassing” in its territorial waters, according to the New York Times, and reported that the country had detained the sailors. Further, the agency claimed to have seized GPS devices from the boats, in order to “prove that the American ships where ‘snooping’ around in Iranian waters.”
Relations between the U.S. and Iran have been particularly tense even before Tuesday’s incident. Last month, according to Times, the Iranian Navy “harassed” the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, which was conducting operations in the Strait of Hormuz. The Iranians launched missiles at the naval vessel, at least one of which came within 1,500 feet of the ship.
Tuesday’s incident comes at a particularly tense point in the relationship between the two countries. Within days, Iran is scheduled to formally implement the terms of a nuclear deal, brokered by the Obama administration, which would free up $100 million in frozen Iranian assets in exchange for Iran shuttering its nuclear program.
This is a developing story. More information about the Iranian seizure of two U.S. Navy boats will be provided as it becomes available.
[Image via Shutterstock/meunierd]